You’re a busy marketer. Your days are full of client meetings, brand research, marketing strategy sessions ...
Who has time to do market research for their own marketing agency?
If you think market research is for clients only, better think again. As a marketer, it’s equally important for you to understand your market, its wants and needs, the state of your competition, and your place in the marketing ecosystem and pecking order.
Make no mistake -- market research for your own firm is no purely-academic exercise. Think of it this way: the better you know your audience, the more easily you can turn prospects into clients. Incredible as it may seem, most professional services firms, including marketing agencies, don’t know their audiences as well as they should. As a result, they’re missing out on opportunities to gain more clients and get more business out of current ones.
So why don’t more marketing firms do research? Well, because many think, for some reason, their clients are “different” so that the input won’t yield any insights. Others think research simply won’t impact growth.
We beg to differ.
We’ve conducted our own research on research (yes, really) and discovered that there are some significant benefits for marketing firms. Firms that regularly research their client markets (at least quarterly) grow more than ten times faster than firms that don't conduct research.
If you’re willing to go all-in and conduct research on a frequent, more-than-quarterly basis, your firm can really take off, compared to agencies that do no research. Our research confirmed that more than one-third of high-growth firms conducted target audience research regularly and at least once a quarter (see below chart). Virtually none of the no-growth firms conducted frequent research.
Research not only drives growth, it also impacts profitability. For instance, when Hinge studied the effects of research on growth and profitability, we found that firms that conducted frequent research realized 19.9% profitability, whereas firms that did not conduct research reported only 11% profitability.
What makes research so effective? There are a number of ways that firms become better positioned to secure prospects and grow their client relationships through research. These include:
- Having a clear understanding of emerging issues and trends in order to determine which services to develop and offer.
- Uncovering areas in which your firm has misjudged or misread their clients, such as what market influences are keeping them from growing their relationship with your firm.
- Identifying purchasing or other types of patterns that you haven’t noticed since you are so deeply engrossed in your day-to-day interactions with your clients.
As Hinge has done research for ourselves and our clients, we’ve identified ten research questions that can drive growth and profitability. Below is a sample of the questions we have found to have a big impact for our clients.
Why do your best clients choose your firm?
Understanding what great clients find appealing about a firm can help the firm attract others like them.
What are those same clients trying to avoid?
This is the flip side of the first question and offers a valuable perspective. The answer can provide clues as to how to avoid being ruled out during the early rounds of a prospect’s selection process. The answer can also help shape business practices and strategy.
What is the real benefit your firm provides?
Firms are often surprised to hear the true benefit of their service, as viewed through their clients’ eyes. Once they understand this, they are able to enhance or even develop new services with other real benefits.
So what’s the best way to conduct research?
Believe it or not, Rule Number One is do not do it yourself. That’s right. Have someone else do it for you. Why? Because respondents are more likely to provide honest answers to a third party. If you insist on doing the research yourself -- which is better than doing no research at all -- be aware that you may capture only a portion of the overall picture.
Here are three more tips for conducting effective research:
1) Phone interviews are best.
Nothing beats a live interview. Even reluctant participants will open up to a skillful interviewer. In fact, the greatest insights are often volunteered outside the scope of the questionnaire.
2) Online surveys are second best—but they don't have to be second rate.
An online survey will never capture the same insights as an interview, but a well-crafted online survey can still reap valuable information. Surveys also tend to be easier and less expensive to implement. Just remember, your response rate is likely to be very low.
3) Don't limit it to your current clients.
Cold prospects are more difficult to get on the phone, but they provide—by far—the most accurate picture of your marketplace. Clients who got away offer invaluable insights into your weaknesses. Similarly, lapsed clients can help you understand how to become more relevant and engaged.
And what should we do with all this research?
There are any number of ways you can use it, limited mostly by your goals and imagination. Here are just a few ideas on how you can use your research to enhance your reputation, generate leads and bring in more clients:
- Tweak or redefine your positioning to differentiate your firm from competitors.
- Introduce new services that prospects have indicated want.
- Use it as an entrée to bring former clients back into the fold.
- Offer new services to current or former clients.
- Anticipate clients' needs.
Most important, you can boost your credibility with your target market and increase your visible expertise by pulling data and results from your research findings to write blog posts and articles that address urgent market challenges, to publish a research study, and as fodder for speeches, seminars, and webinars.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get researching. The sooner you get started, the sooner your firm will reap its rewards.